By PHYLLIS HODGES
Military veterans are honored on special days shown on our calendars, and there are numerous organizations that honor veterans throughout the year as well. One such organization is the Quilts of Valor Foundation. It’s a nationwide program made possible by hundreds of men and women who make patriotic quilts to be given to the nation’s veterans throughout the year.
When Velma DeKing, a volunteer at the Sun City Center Emergency Squad, learned about Quilts of Valor last year, she sprang into action on behalf of her fellow squad volunteers who were military veterans. She thought they deserved recognition for having served their country and are continuing to serve their community through the squad. She identified 82 volunteers who were veterans and has coordinated four gatherings since September to present these members with quilts. The latest was April 13 at the SCC Emergency Squad’s Training Center when nine members received 70- by 90-inch quilts in various patriotic designs. Each quilt bore the names of the veteran and the quilter.
Eileen Engel, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said, “It was nice to be recognized for service to our country. We were not welcomed home after Vietnam. The Quilts of Valor are a beautiful, meaningful way to show appreciation and welcome us home after 45 years.” Engel has been a squad volunteer for nine years and is currently an EMT.
DeKing works through a Quilts of Valor coordinator in Salt Springs, Fla., who contacts her when a batch of quilts (usually 10 to 15) are ready. Nationwide, about 180,000 quilts have been presented since the program began in 2003. As far as she knows, there is no one else in the area participating in the program.
“We do appreciate the outstanding job Velma has done to help us honor our veteran volunteers. She coordinates everything singlehandedly,” said Emergency Squad Chief Michael Bardell. He said the nine recipients have a combined 178 years of Emergency Squad service.